Archive for the ‘Trial or Error’ Category

AVOIDTony Hawks Pro Skater HD

Tony Hawk Pro Skate HD Case

Developer: Robomodo

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Tony who? Tony Stark? T Hawk? Oh, you mean the aging, 900 degree-spinning, lanky-legged, commercial face of skateboarding Mr Tony Hawk? The birdman himself – he really did grow into his beak…

Tony Hawk Child

Talk about a Nose Slide….

Ok, so maybe I won’t be asked to perform a eulogy at his funeral.

Forgive the rather harsh introduction, I actually have a lot of love for the skate veteran. Undoubtedly the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles helped to shape what has become a real interest in skateboarding. A combination of simple, frantic skating, and quirky somewhat ridiculous tasks, the original titles were immediately accessible and importantly, had real replayability. Moreover, the reward of short FMV clips displaying real skate footage of the in game characters is a brilliant bonus; it felt like an actual achievement, something worth working towards. Unfortunately, the franchise has made significant transitions throughout the many iterations over the years, including the infamous Underground series which made a slight stab at enhanced realism.

But now we go backwards, delving into the past, with the new Xbox Arcade release of Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD. It brings with it nostalgia, excited memories and… disappointment.

In age of ever increasing media entertainment realism, Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD simply doesn’t work. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for arcade fun – this just isn’t it. It looks pretty, the controls are as smooth as ever and gameplay is simple. The problem is that it just isn’t as enjoyable as the original versions. Playing the demo repeatedly for an hour, I tried to put my finger on the central issue and I think it’s probably the speed of your skater.  There is patently too much pace, far more than was present in older games, which entirely damages the gameplay. Furthermore, the Warehouse level you are given to play is too compact to effectively manage this increased speed, causing you to overshoot and destroying your lines. It doesn’t help that the demo play time is a measly one minute thirty, despite the in game timer displaying two minutes – the typical objectives (like collecting ‘S-K-A-T-E’) are memorable but provide no gratification whatsoever when there is so little time to complete any more than one task. Perhaps this was intended as offering a tempting teaser, or possibly an exciting challenge. I just see it as a restrictive removal of freedom inducing a sense of linearity.

The one saving grace is the incredible soundtrack, comprising tons of songs from the original games, including ‘Superman’ by Goldfinger and Millencolin’s ‘No Cigar’. Yet, even the great audio accompaniment is not enough to save the game from inevitable obscurity. Jump back on Skate instead, or why not dust off the original Tony Hawks titles?

DOWNLOAD: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead XBox Case

Developer: Terminal Reality

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Zombies, zombies everywhere and not a brain to… use.

While the gaming industry is known for regularly jumping on the bandwagon of a successful genre/theme, only to rattle out tired, ill-thought titles while it’s the ‘in’ thing (I swear I’ve sneezed longer than AVP had dev time), games featuring zombies are refreshingly sparse.

Ok, perhaps sparse isn’t the right word but they’re certainly kept to the realm of sporadic, good quality titles – Resident Evil, Left For Dead, Dead Rising, Dead Island and now, The Walking Dead.

I’m always troubled when games are being adapted from cult television, cinema or literary hits. Inevitably there is going to be something lacking when the original source is already held with such high esteem. Few adaptations have ever produced something that mirrors the original, or more importantly, something that is fresh and reinvigorates it.

The Walking Dead manages this with aplomb. Now on it’s third instalment, the series is well into it’s cycle, receiving top reviews and celebration despite the slightly hefty price tag (400 ms points per instalment).

Though I haven’t read the books, I have dabbled in the graphic novels and I love the television series. The Walking Dead game has managed to capture the same sense of desperation, the same empathy and emotional connection to protagonists seen in the original source.

Though the series initially appears fairly pricey, the cost is entirely justified. Each instalment is extremely replayable, supported by a game mechanic that ensures you are the driving force behind progression. The primary feature of The Walking Dead is a decision system whereby you must choose a particular action or verbal response, often in a limited time frame (choices are set up as QTEs, much like Scene It, without the annoying fucking announcer). These immediate choices force you to really consider the outcome of your actions, making your own thought process and planning essential, elements often overlooked in zombie titles. Most zombie-themed action games are pretty brainless, beyond the need to conserve ammo and health. Violence and head-exploding action seem to always come to the forefront, with relationships and the contextual impact upon them treated very superficially, or even entirely overlooked. Furthermore, having various ultimatums thrust unexpectedly in your face engenders a fervent desire to replay the game, deliberately choosing alternating options in order to examine the impact they will have. The Walking Dead is hugely replayable because of this, boosted by statistical comparisons at the end of each installment – once a chapter is completed you are presented with a screen detailing what decisions you made throughout and how this compares to other gamers.

In the interests of balance, the negatives. The game perhaps feels a little linear at times, though this is in the very nature of what it’s trying to achieve. It’s not a sandbox or an rpg, it’s a simple action title that wants you to feel trapped and claustrophobic. Puzzles aren’t the most difficult that you’re going to find in a game, but they don’t need to be. The story is so engrossing and you are so engaged by the decision making process that you genuinely feel your choices have an impact on the outcome of each instalment. This feeling imbeds you right in the centre of the story, a rare occurrence these days.

The Walking Dead, download it now. Because a skateboard would be useless in a zombie apocalypse, Dead Rising taught me so.

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AVOID: Binary Domain

Binary Domain Box Xbox 360Developer: SEGA

Publisher: SEGA

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

 

With some impressive titles under their extensive belts, games developers SEGA bring you a new third person shooter in the form of
Binary Domain. The trouble is, it’s just not worth playing.

As shooters go, the concept is interesting. You play a team of future soldiers attempting to rescue Tokyo from a 2080 robotic invasion. That’s where the intrigue ends.

Why? Because it’s Gears of War 4. Everything about this game reeks of Epic’s renowned sci fi shooter series. Binary Domain has exploited various features directly from the franchise, including the cover system, roady run, weapon inventory menu, blindfiring, bleed outs, grenade animation and the hilarious quota filling found in the core team (White American? Check. Huge Black guy? Check. Woman? Check). Now although these features are staples of most third person shooters (ok, perhaps ignore the last one), the way they look and function in Binary Domain is unequivocally Gears-esque. This is entirely unforgivable considering how acclaimed Gears of War is, and undoubtedly SEGA is aware of this.

The robotic enemies are interesting, though I found myself becoming tired of them just in the demo, and the ‘Trust’ system which affects your team mates’ obeying of orders has the potential for being a unique addition. It’s just not enough though.

I applaud SEGA for giving you two playable levels, it’s generous of them. Ironically, it’s worked completely against them however. The first level plays well, it’s engaging and almost, ALMOST, exciting. This is as a result of the pace and variety of action that awaits you. Then you play the second level and this all goes out the window. Binary Domain suddenly becomes tedious and unadventurous, just another mediocre shooter.

Binary Domain. It’s tired, it’s been done before. It’s Gears of War. Save yourself the time and just play the original.

DOWNLOAD: Minecraft 360 Edition

Minecraft 360 Box Xbox 360Developer: Mojang, 4J Studios

Publisher: Mojang

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC

 

Minecraft is a creative triumph, offering glorious respite from a gaming market saturated with guns, blood and an ever-increasing sense of linear realism.

After the cult success of Minecraft for PC in 2011 (as well as for iOS and Android), developer Mojang has caved in to consumer demand and released a version for Xbox Live Arcade. The Swedish developer, fronted by creative genius Markus ‘Notch’ Perrson, worked in conjunction with Scottish devs 4J Studios (also responsible for XBLA ports of Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark) to make the transition to the Microsoft console. Importantly, Notch has stated publicly that the game will only be available for Xbox 360 as a console platform.

Though I’m sure you have some idea about what the game entails from the massive publicity or the interesting merchandise, I’ll give a brief description. Essentially it’s a sandbox creation game, allowing the player to forge his own world out of pixel-like 3D cubes. You must investigate your surroundings, mine resources, create buildings, tools, weapons and all manner of luxury items in order to sustain yourself. Along the way you’ll also need to protect your character and your constructions from monsters of the night who threaten to attack you and everything you’ve built. The game really is what you make of it.

Though Minecraft 360 Edition is currently based on an earlier Beta version of the PC release, there are some interesting additions including 4 player split screen, 8 person online multiplayer, Kinect functionality, and a comprehensive in game tutorial, notably lacking from the original.

The inclusion of this tutorial is vital for your first jaunt into the world of Minecraft. It explains the basics of mining resources, your inventory, and combining materials to generate new ones. After completing it you feel sufficiently prepared to release those creative juices, especially in the completion of your house – you’ll see stolen beds and fences all over the shop! The tutorial is enjoyable, slowly learning the game mechanics in a manner of structured guidance that also affords you some creative freedom; you can mine as much wood as you like, and explore the small opening area for the entire demo if you so choose.

However, the real wonder of Minecraft is revealed when the tutorial is completed, as you exit the miner’s house into a beautiful open landscape. The tutorial felt somewhat like looking out into the world through a keyhole, but suddenly the player gets a significant glimpse into the actual scope of the game. No spoilers, but what you see really captures your imagination about what can be created and across what sort of expanse (that miner’s house you developed and were pretty proud of? Well yeah, now it looks like a bungalow in Hackney). From this point on you are aware of Minecraft‘s true majesty, and you cannot help but be completely enthralled by it. Until the short demo runs out that is…

… but then you play it again! I myself played the trial three times straight off the bat, my appetite whet for exploring this foreign land. The combination of limited demo time and the gradual exposure of the picturesque landscape successfully engages your curiosity, demanding that you play again to discover what you may have missed the first time round. It’s been a long time since I’ve replayed a demo so excitedly, forming an ideal mindset for future purchase.

Games like Minecraft 360 Edition are few and far between. Make sure you at least try this one out!

Games are becoming easier and easier to access right from the comfort of your home. Whether it’s digital downloads or simply your friendly neighbourhood delivery service, you no longer need to leave the house in order to access the world of games at your disposal.

The trouble is though, games are now too accessible, and there is swiftly becoming too many of them! You’ve got full titles, DLC, arcade and indie games, the list in endless. There simply isn’t enough time to try everything out, even just brief demos… what we need is some guidance.

Step in Hammy, with the new feature ‘Trial or Error’.

I will play the multitude of trial games, meaning you don’t have to, offering guidance on which titles are worth your time and which ones should be avoided like the daily reruns of Rules of Engagement. Bloody elvish David Spade.

AVOID: Ninja Gaiden 3

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii U

 

Well, you know what they say, ‘the best things come in pairs’. Perhaps Team Ninja should have listened to this old adage before they embarked upon the third installment of their hack n’ slash series Ninja Gaiden. The demo is indefensibly poor, hampered by generic narrative, an over reliance on QTE, and a combat system that no longer rewards you for proficient knowledge of its intricacies.

Perhaps the biggest crime is that it’s simply not fun. When a game revolves around the merciless killing of enemies, with a multitude of death-bringers in your arsenal (swords, claws, scythes), then it’s completely unforgivable for it to be anything less than exciting and gratifying. Unfortunately for Ninja Gaiden 3, it’s well below par, feeling tedious and dishearteningly unoriginal. Worse still you are completely unable to appreciate any of the combat animation as a result of its speed and the needlessly close camera focus.

And why is it that when developers struggle with new iterations of their franchise they seek an ostensible solution in the use of jolly ol’ blighty as a setting. (Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare 3). It may well curry favour with UK fans, but it doesn’t make up for failings in other areas.

They did make the start menu read horizontally though; innovation at its finest!

Avoid Rating: 9/10 (the equivalent of avoiding ITV2 if you have no desire to watch tantastic entertainment degenerates Katie Price, Peter Andre or Kerry Katona).

DOWNLOAD: Fez

Developer: Polytron

Publisher: Polytron

Platforms: Xbox 360 Arcade

 

Finally, a game that does everything right.

With Fez, independent developers Polytron have managed to deliver exactly what Ninja Gaiden 3 failed to: originality of concept and execution. You take the role of Gomez, a pixelated miniature version of Stay Puft (with a similar reliance on snazzy headwear) as he embarks upon a mystical 2D journey.

The narrative is pleasingly simple: collect golden cubes in order to access areas previously locked. The real conceptual majesty surfaces in how you manage to do this. Fez affords you  the ability to rotate levels at 90 degree intervals, providing perspective changes that reveal new areas and alternative paths of progression. This creative innovation is the primary reason that the game is so engaging; it’s a puzzler unseen before, playing with your perception, prompting curiosity and thorough examination.

For me, Fez is immediately reminiscent of Super Meat Boy – the charming pixelated 2D visuals, the magical combination of puzzler and platformer, all tied up with some wonderful bleepy chiptune. It’s another indie dev success, following in the footsteps of Braid.

It’s wonderfully simple, but immersive and thoroughly engaging. Give it a go now!

Download Rating: 10/10